Forecast Bleak

Forecast Bleak
By Sophie Marie
Illustrated by Brett Bean
Curriculum developed by Katy Eyberg

OVERVIEW

Quick-Glance 10 Points for Usage Guide

Student Population
Age/Grade-Level Appropriateness * 11+/6th+
Genre/s * Science fiction
* Short story
Length * 2,884 words (8-minute read)
Content Advisories * Brief same-sex kissing
* Brief instance of suffocation
One-Sentence Summary This science fiction story features a day in the life of Mia, a girl who has not breathed air normally for her entire 13 years of life.
Lesson Planning
Topics & Key Themes Overview Topics:

* Routine
* School
* Isolation
* Pollution
* Atmosphere
* Environment
* Adolescence
* Relationships

Themes:

* Isolation as a form of comfort
* Rebellion against societal norms
* Environmental degradation harms humans
* Human adaptation to environmental degradation

Historic Events/Time Period for Study * Smog in Los Angeles during the 20th and 21st centuries
* Great Smog of London in 1952
Complementary Text * Article: ”Bleeding Noses And Blood-Red Eyes As Bangkok Battles Toxic Air” from NDTV.com: https://bit.ly/2OkJ8mw
* Webpage: “Air pollution” by the World Health Organization: https://bit.ly/2PwJeKO
Author & Artist Information Sophie Marie is a writer based in Wales, U.K.

Brett Bean is an illustrator and a designer based in Los Angeles.

Key Common Core Standards

(found in detail following the curriculum)

Grade 6 Common Core Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.3

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.7

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.A
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.B
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.C
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.D
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.E
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.7
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.8
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.9

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1.B
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1.C
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.6

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.4.A
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.4.D
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.5

* Note: Questions recommended for assessment are marked with two asterisks.

Author Biography

Sophie Marie has just earned her creative and professional writing degree with First-Class Honours. Since then, she’s moved from Canterbury to Wales to enjoy a quieter, slower way of life. She’s had short stories published online and in print but is currently focusing her efforts on writing a much longer piece. When she is not writing, Sophie can usually be found with an energy drink in her hand, a notebook in the other, her doggie Leia on her lap, and her pup Chewie by her feet.

Artist Biography

Brett Bean makes stuff up for a living, be it character, creature, story, or place. He currently runs his own business, Drawn To It Studios, LLC, where he creates original content and provides outsourcing for companies big and small. He also creates puppet designs for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

He has illustrated the 18 chapter books in the successful children’s book series Beasts of Olympus, published by Penguin Random House, and Battle Bugs, published by Scholastic. He was the lead designer for Disney XD’s show Slugterra.

His work as an illustrator, writer, cartoonist, designer, and teacher has been featured in films, television shows, video games, comic books, card and board games, and children’s books.

He has had the good fortune to work with Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Riot Games, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Marvel Studios, Penguin Books, Scholastic, and more. He is happily married to a redhead and happily devoted to their redheaded son. They reside, play pickleball, volleyball, and soak up the sun in Los Angeles.

One of Brett’s favorite words is “chortle,” and he adores traveling and Tom Waits. He also ate a mopane worm in Africa . . . and it was gross. Each year, he makes several stops at conventions, and he gives talks and workshops on a fairly regular basis.

SYNOPSIS

Mia’s life has the trappings of normalcy. With raging hormones, she goes to school, feels embarrassed by her father, daydreams about a cute teacher, and watches a couple kiss. However, Mia has more than hormones in her everyday life. Since before Mia’s birth, the air has been too toxic to breathe. From the moment Mia was taken home from the hospital, she has either had to wear a helmask or breathe filtered, vacuum-sealed air in safe locations. Even after 13 years, wearing the helmask still feels awkward for Mia, until one day, when she witnesses a brief moment without it. This eight-minute read reimagines human relationships largely devoid of physical contact.

CURRICULUM

Pre-Reading & Themes Activity Options

Topic

Mini-Research Project:

In groups of two to three, discuss the following questions:

  • How does technology make your life easier?
  • How does technology make your life harder?
  • How does technology help society?
  • How does technology hurt society?

As a group, create a poster illustrating how technology has impacted your life and helped or hurt society. Conduct research to find three specific examples of both. Describe these examples with bullet points and images on your poster. Remember to cite your sources. Present your posters to the class.

Optional: After watching each group’s presentation, respond to the following question in a 10-minute journal entry: Is technology more helpful or hurtful to society? Why? Explain.

Main Ideas

Journaling:

In a 10-minute journal entry, write down everything you know about air pollution. Try to answer the following questions:

  • How does air become polluted?
  • Why is air pollution bad in some places but not in others?
  • What effect does air pollution have on humans, plants, and animals?
  • How can humans reduce air pollution and protect life?

After 10 minutes, or if you’re unsure of how to answer these questions, use reliable Internet sources to research their scientific answers. Then, discuss the following questions with a partner:

  • Before this exercise, how much did you know about air pollution?
  • What did you learn about air pollution?
  • Compare your initial speculations about air pollution with your research. How are they similar and/or different?

Passage-Specific Themes

Small-Group Discussion:

Read the following passage from “Forecast Bleak.” Discuss the questions below in small groups, then share your ideas with the class:

Through her thick safety layers of clothing that insured not a patch of skin could touch the outside air, Mia grew hotter and hotter. Her helmask entombed her entire head, and it amplified her breathing; she itched to get it off. The familiar battle between condensation and vision commenced. Mia needed to wipe away the sweat and breath that was clouding her window to the world, but she couldn’t, and the more frustrated she got, the hotter she grew. Mia had worn a helmask for thirteen years — ever since she’d left the hospital as a new-born, but she still wasn’t used to it. Whenever she wanted to go outside, the helmask went on, and every time it did, her heart beat quicker, her breath grew shallow and, ever so slightly, her fingertips trembled.

Question One: Why do you think Mia has to wear protective clothing and a helmask? How do these items affect Mia’s life?

Question Two: Why do you think Mia is not used to the helmask, even though she has been wearing it her whole life?

Question Three: What is the tone, or mood, of this excerpt? Do you think the tone will continue throughout the rest of the text? Why or why not?

Optional: Draw a picture of the helmask. Share your illustration with a partner.

Universal Themes

Imagine air becomes unbreathable. With a partner, write a one-page creative essay from the perspective of someone who has access to supplemental, breathable oxygen. Then, write a one-page creative essay from the perspective of someone who does not have access to supplemental, breathable oxygen.

Share your essays with two other groups. How are your essays similar and/or different? What do they reveal about humankind’s response to difficult circumstances?

Key Vocabulary

Definitions are context-dependent. Make sure any definitions you look up or work from are the ones that most correctly fit in the context of the story.

Level One Level Two Level Three
condensation cocooned entombed
amplified logistics toxicity
discard consensus helmask
chaperone compressed transfixed
grudgingly uninhabitable reverberating
fluorescent crimson tonnes
intricacies cultured
starlings

Vocabulary Activity Options

  1. With a partner, consider the word logistics. Discuss the following questions:

What is the dictionary definition of this word? When you search logistics on Google, what links, images, and videos appear? What does logistics mean in the real world? What does logistics mean in the story? What class do you think logistics has replaced in school?

Make a list of the topics you would include in your own logistics class, and explain them to the class.

  1. Reread “Forecast Bleak.” As a British author, does Sophie Marie use slightly different words than a writer from the United States? Create a list of these words. Notice their alternative spellings.

Next, pick 10 words from the vocabulary list. Make a chart including the word, its dictionary definition, its connotative meaning, or its feeling, and one sentence reflecting that connotative meaning.

Optional: Draw a picture to show each word’s meaning.

  1. What is a helmask, and how does it work? Research a helmask, and draw a diagram of it. Imagine you must wear one to live, work, and go to school. With a partner, draw a cartoon or write a poem about what it is like to wear a helmask every day.

Post-Reading Class Discussion Options

  1. This story features life in an unbreathable atmosphere. Do you think this new reality is better or worse than normal life? Why or why not?
  2. How would you feel if you were forced to wear a helmask to breathe and conduct your daily life?
  3. How do you think humans interact with the environment? Do we respect and revere it? Do we exploit it? Do we preserve it? Do we harm it?
  4. Do you think this story predicts the future, or is it pure imagination? Why?

** Text-Dependent Question Options

  1. What elements of Mia’s life are typical of a teenager? What elements are atypical? How has the lack of breathable air changed life for Mia and for those around her? Support your answer with specific evidence from the text.
  2. How does Mia’s attitude toward her helmask change from beginning to end of the story? Support your answer with specific evidence from the text.
  3. How does the story’s setting impact its characters? How do they respond to their environment? Support your answer with specific textual evidence.
  4. Study the story’s artwork. How is artist Brett Bean’s depiction of a helmask similar and/or different than what you imagined? How is his depiction of Mia similar and/or different than how she is described in the story? Cite both the story and the artwork.

Writing Exercises

Narrative

Imagine “Forecast Bleak” from the perspective of one or both girls who share the kiss Mia witnesses. What are these girls’ names? Where are they from? How old are they? How long have they been together, and what is their relationship like? How do they feel about wearing helmasks?

Write a two-page narrative based on the perspective of one or both girls. Include telling details, sensory language, and events leading up to and following their kiss.

Descriptive

Think about one specific aspect of your daily life, including all its intricate and mundane details. For example, think about your morning routine on school days. Write one paragraph describing it.

Next, rewrite your descriptive paragraph as though you’re wearing a helmask while doing the activity.

What changes between the two paragraphs? What stays the same? Why?

Optional: Read your paragraphs aloud to the class.

** Analysis

In literature, a motif is a recurring feature that helps establish a text’s theme. One motif of “Forecast Bleak” is physicality, or the way in which physical objects and people move through and interact with their surrounding space. For example, the story features physical isolation as a fixture of everyday life. Mia’s body is “entombed” in protective clothing and a helmask, and this isolation affects her attitude, appearance, and disposition toward others.

Write a two-page essay examining how this story confronts physical contact and physical space. How do the helmasks physically impair, support, help, or hinder the characters? How does each character interact with their helmask? What emotions do the characters connect to the helmasks? Support your analysis with specific evidence from “Forecast Bleak.”

Complementary Text Option

Read the following article, which was published in 2019 by New Delhi Television Limited:

Bleeding Noses And Blood-Red Eyes As Bangkok Battles Toxic Air

BANGKOK: Choking air pollution and thick smog in Bangkok has adversely affected the health of many. With the air quality in Thailand’s capital hovering at unhealthy levels, many people have taken severely ill with some sharing horrifying pictures of the effect it has had on them. Some people took to social media to share images of them coughing out blood, having blood red eyes and share their concerns about the deteriorating air in the city.

Hazardous dust particles known as PM 2.5 have exceeded the safe level in 41 areas around the capital, according to the Department of Pollution Control. PM 2.5 is a mixture of liquid droplets and solid particles that can include dust, soot and smoke, one of the main measures of the Air Quality Index (AQI).

Public discontent has surfaced on Thai social media and television, with pollution-related hashtags trending and TV hosts advising viewers on the types of face masks they should wear.

A Thai man shared details on how what he perceived to be a fever turned out to be severe effects of the murky air that had affected his health to the point that he coughed out blood. The post he shared on Facebook was widely shared on social media.

Many other residents shared horrific images of bleeding noses and blood red eyes and shared details of the various other ailments the pollution has brought upon them. They advised everyone to take care of their health and urged authorities to take appropriate action. These are serious concerns shared by the residents of the city who are battling the toxic air of the city on a daily basis.

The severe air pollution has prompted schools to close in the Thai capital for the rest of the week and authorities have announced a ban on cars that use diesel and burning of any kind within the city.

Authorities have seeded clouds to provoke rain, sprayed overpasses with water to catch micro-pollutants, and even urged people not to burn incense ahead of Chinese New Year. Troops have also been asked to inspect factories across the country.

So far, these efforts have had no effect on the pall of pollution that has shrouded the city recently. Last week on Wednesday, airvisual.com, which measures levels in cities worldwide, ranked Bangkok as the fifth most polluted city. New Delhi ranked first at 257.

As Thais wake up to another day of murky air blanketing its bustling construction-filled capital, authorities remain tense over growing concern about the haze and the government’s feeble response, which has started a political debate in the tourism-dependent nation.

Reasons for the persistent smog include combustion exhaust from Bangkok’s traffic-strewn roads, the burning of fields from farmers outside the city, and pollutants from factories.

Writing Exercise

Write a creative short story connecting both the article and the story. Imagine a character from the story is living in Bangkok when the article is published. Write your story from the point of view of that character. Make sure your creative piece answers the following plot points:

  • When and how did air pollution get so bad?
  • When and how did government officials decide to mandate helmasks?
  • What happened as air pollution worsened over time?
  • Do some cities have worse air pollution than others? Why or why not?

Activity Options

Classroom Activity One

Mini-Research Project:

In small groups, use reputable sources to research one aspect of the environment. Possible topics include the following:

  • Air pollution
  • Climate change
  • Weather and extreme weather
  • Environmental health
  • Rainfall and drought
  • Forests and deforestation
  • Deserts and desertification

For your chosen topic, create a poster answering the following questions:

  • What is your topic?
  • How does your topic impact people?
  • Why should people care about your topic?
  • What do scientists predict will happen with your topic in 20, 50, and 100 years?
  • How does your topic relate to “Forecast Bleak”?

Include images with clear captions. Be sure to cite your reputable sources. Present your poster to the class.

Classroom Activity Two

Note: Prior to starting this class, print “Agree” and “Disagree” on two large sheets of paper. Place each sheet of paper on the opposite end of the classroom to create a spectrum between them. Print or type the opinion statements onto PowerPoint slides so students can read them clearly.

Listen to or read the following opinions. Think about whether you agree or disagree with each. Stand up and move next to the “Agree” sign if you agree, and stand next to the “Disagree” sign if you disagree. If you’re unsure how you feel about the given opinion, stand somewhere between the two signs.

  • I believe human activity causes climate change.
  • I believe climate change is a major problem in my lifetime.
  • The world in “Forecast Bleak” is a worse place than is reality.
  • Mia lives a normal life.
  • Parks and greenspace are overrated.
  • Mia will someday take off her helmask while outside.
  • Air pollution is a preventable problem.
  • People shouldn’t drive cars, because they pollute the air.

After moving around the classroom in response to each opinion, share your thoughts with a partner. When you are ready, share your thoughts with the class. Encourage each student to speak at least once.

Optional: After responding to the eight opinions above, write your own original opinion on one of the above prompts based on “Forecast Bleak” and/or the article. Present your opinion to the class, and allow your peers to respond to your opinion by moving around the room accordingly.

Required Materials: two large sheets of paper and markers

Home Activity

Examine the environment surrounding either your home or a place you like. Is it polluted? Does it have smog? What color is the sky? How does the air smell? Is it populated with many people, or is it relatively isolated from others? What buildings are in the area? Does the area have parks or greenspace? How could the physical landscape and atmosphere be improved?

Give the air in this environment a rating between one and 10. A one rating means the air appears clean and smells fresh, and a 10 rating means the air appears very dirty and smells toxic. Justify your rating.

Write one brief paragraph evaluating this environment and a second brief paragraph explaining what could be done to improve it.

Guest Speaker

Option One: Invite the author, Sophie Marie, who lives in England, to answer questions about her piece via Skype. Specifically, ask her to reflect on the extent to which the piece is informed by real-world issues.

Option Two: Invite the artist, Brett Bean, to speak to the class about how he created artwork for the story, as well as his career as an illustrator and designer.  Ask him to lead an art workshop.

Option Three: Invite Dr. Alex Hall of the UCLA Center for Climate Science to speak about his work, climate change, and its impact in Southern California. Please contact Dr. Hall at [email protected] or the Center for Climate Science: (310) 825-5008.

Note: Literature for Life helps coordinate and facilitate author and artist visits.

Field Trip

Visit the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum (5801 Wilshire Blvd., LA). Explore the tar pits and learn how they formed and still contain bones of prehistoric animals. During the field trip, take notes on the tar pits.

Read more about the tar pits here: https://bit.ly/2HxO1Ik

Follow-up Writing Activity:

At the end of the field trip, write a brief paragraph reflecting on your experience, including answers to the following questions:

  • How did the La Brea Tar Pits come into existence?
  • What kinds of animals did the La Brea Tar Pits trap?
  • What do the La Brea Tar Pits reveal about how landscapes change over time?
  • What do the La Brea Tar Pits teach us about the environment?

COMMON CORE STANDARDS REFERENCE

This story and its exercises are appropriate for 6th grade and above. Sixth-grade standards are cited.

Pre-Reading & Themes Activity Options

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.2: Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.7: Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.1: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.7: Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.5: Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Vocabulary Activity Options

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.7: Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.4.A: Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.4.C: Consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.6.4.D: Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

Post-Reading Class Discussion Options

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1.B: Follow rules for collegial discussions, set specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1.C: Pose and respond to specific questions with elaboration and detail by making comments that contribute to the topic, text, or issue under discussion.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Text-Dependent Question Options

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.3: Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

Writing Exercise Options

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.1: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.B: Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.D: Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Complementary Reading Text (Comparative Writing Exercise)

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.A: Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.B: Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.C: Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.D: Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3.E: Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Activity Options

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.7: Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.4: Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.